Most of us recognise the obvious – that the world is undergoing a period of dynamic disruption driven by many factors including technology, globalisation, population growth, climate change, and the current transition from the information age into the ‘imagination age’. An emerging age where creativity and imagination are becoming the primary creators of economic value – a paradigm shift requiring significant transformation.
An imperative for the success and realisation of any significant transformation is leadership. The World Economic Forum Global Outlook Agenda in 2013 stated that “Leadership remains the biggest challenge of all for 2013 and beyond”. Few, however, would argue the difficulty we are still experiencing in delivering effective leadership in both business and politics.
My work as a consultant with the leaders and leadership teams of organisations and corporations provides me with continual evidence that anxiety, chronic stress (the mismatch between a leader’s level of mental complexity / capability and the complexity they are now expected to manage), high levels of leader / employee disillusionment and disengagement, coupled with constant change and disruption, critically demand more evolved and enlightened approaches to leadership and wise organisational stewardship.
The Call for Evolutionary Leadership.
The issues faced by leaders of today are not simply technical or transactional. Many of today’s significant issues can be more accurately perceived as adaptive challenges.
An adaptive challenge requires us and our thinking to be transformed by the problems themselves. Einstein captured this sentiment as “no problem can be solved from the same level of thinking (consciousness) that created it”.
Unfortunately, the world is still largely being driven by collapsing Newtonian paradigms of leadership and problem-solving methodologies. These traditional linear, mechanistic, and historical “firefighting” approaches to decision making and solving problems are clearly inadequate and no longer as relevant in complex times.
The world is clearly facing a critical shortage of more conscious business and political leaders. This shortage presents a profound opportunity for those leaders who wish to grow and transform themselves into evolutionary leaders.
Evolutionary leadership is the key to relevance, shared value creation, and sustainable success in the complex global innovation economy.
The Leadership Challenge?
The global leadership imperative is to now rapidly enable the professional and personal growth of authentic evolutionary leaders. It requires prioritising a leader’s adaptive capability and meta-cognitive / meta-perceptive development in increasingly ambiguous, complex, competitive and dynamically changing environments.
Leaders cast a long shadow. Just as an any individual must do their own developmental work in order to transform, evolve their level of consciousness, and liberate their own potential, so too must leaders and leadership teams of organisations. It is not enough for leaders to expect others to keep pace, adapt, or transform as if personal growth and culture (the key enabler of innovation and strategy) is a concept unrelated to their own behaviour and actions.
We are now at a point of choice.
Escalating complexity and disruption are pushing most of us outside of our collective comfort zones. We can attempt to retreat to the familiar and resist the unknown, or courageously allow ourselves to imagine, adapt, co-create, consciously evolve, and redefine who we are and what we are capable of – as a species.
The Mind – an enabler of evolutionary leadership or a constraint?
The greatest obstacle to any meaningful transformation is the existing mindset. Therefore, it is important that the transformation process is not inadvertently undermined by the prevailing paradigm. Self-awareness is key. We cannot manage those things that we are unaware of – including ourselves.
Evolutionary leaders are aware that the thinking and behaviour that got us here is not going to get us to where we now need to go. Their priority becomes intimately understanding themselves and their conscious / unconscious beliefs, bias, fears, attitudes, and drivers. Here the cultivation of emotional and spiritual intelligence (EQ and SQ) become highly valuable literacies and powerful allies of the intellect (IQ).
In this context it is important to consider ‘the mind’ and its impact on evolutionary leadership.
The unique environmental conditions and experiences we were exposed to as babies and young children (along with a bit of genetics thrown in) directly influenced the creation of the neural, psychological, energetic, and somatic structures that reflect an embodied “mindset”. Our body is in effect our unconscious mind congealed.
Dr Wilhelm Reich and Dr Alexander Lowen also identified the impact of our early childhood environmental and psychic experiences on the character “structure” of the body – with a particular focus on how the issues, limitations, characteristics, and attitudes of our mind are mirrored and reflected in our manifest body – the embodied experience of our own minds.
All of us have made this developmental journey and depending on the uniqueness of our individual experiences these collective structures formed the basis of an overarching organism identity we could also call our “self”. This “self” became a vehicle that allowed us to survive as best we could and navigate the world with varying degrees of success.
The mind is the “driver” of this vehicle we call the self. Our mind is our central organising principle. We know a great deal about the brain but what of the mind? Author, child psychiatrist and neuroscientific educator Professor Dan Siegal created a working definition of the mind as that “which regulates and manages the flow of information and energy” in the self.
A leader and the leadership team in this context hold a similar position of regulating and managing the flow of information and energy within a larger organism – the organisation. The manifested cultural attitudes, norms, structures, systems, and processes of an organisation are the embodiment of this larger central organising principle – ‘the leadership mind’.
The mind therefore enables and / or constrains the relevance, potential, stability and effectiveness of the self – and by extension leaders, teams and organisations.
Structure Determines Function and Performance
A fundamental law of nature and physics is that structure determines function and performance.
The mind is a complex structure. Our level of mental complexity determines the quality of our lives and how effectively we perform, perceive, manage complexity, lead, and experience ourselves, others, and all manner of functions and interactions with the world around us.
Consciousness is the deeper structure of the mind – the mind’s basis of operation. Therefore, our level of conscious awareness (consciousness) determines the capacity or limitations of our mind to most effectively manage and regulate the flow of information and energy that will realise our potential and access our most relevant and beneficial self-state – and by extension enable the best self-state of others.
Evolutionary Leadership requires us to transform and evolve our level of consciousness – our basis of operation.
The Instrument of Evolutionary Leadership
The instrument of leadership is the self.
As unique structures, if we aspire to become an evolutionary leader and effectively lead into the future, we need to evolve ourselves and our level of consciousness or as Ghandi put it, “become the change we want to see in the world”.
Leading our own mind and liberating it from egoic obscurations and its narrow lens of awareness is the first step.
Evolutionary Leadership requires us to innovate and re-structure ourselves – transforming our own minds. This transcendent shift to a higher level of consciousness is also reflected more tangibly in “neuroplasticity” – the scientifically evidenced capacity of the brain to mindfully grow, change itself, restructure, and achieve greater levels of whole brain integration and meta-cognition / meta-perception.
When this integrative shift occurs, we begin to experience ourselves, the world, and our motivations differently. What was once subject now becomes object. Our basis of operation has evolved. Our anxious reactivity and defensiveness decreases as our over identification with a smaller egoic self and its lower order consciousness begins to release its hold. The relationship and connection with ourselves, others, and our environment open into something larger – a more purposeful, inclusive, and integrated space. We become more congruent with our heart’s desire and begin to experience our own becoming. We are more able to authentically self-manage and self-regulate the flow of information and energy. We move towards self-mastery as a stabilised way of being. From this higher conscious state, interdependent systems thinking, and accurate perception of complexity dynamics also become more accessible, facilitating wiser decision making and approaches to emergent issues and problems as realised potentials – not just abstract concepts or theories.
We are transforming – the platform for evolutionary leadership is establishing itself beyond the small self – our ego.
The Challenge of Transcending the Ego
An evolutionary leader must be able to hold the reflective capability to transcend their ego. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of becoming an evolutionary leader.
Our ego considers itself very separate from others. It can be self-interested in affirming what it believes to be true. Ego loves to concretise and defend its reality / position, even if to do so may undermine our own success, relationships, or quality of life.
How many of us have thought and behaved in an habitualised or compulsive way even though we knew it was not going to end well?
An immature and insecure ego will also often attempt to collude with others holding similar realities or attempt to destroy the differing reality of other / others in order to seemingly exist. This is the core source of much conflict both personally, professionally, and culturally and becomes highly problematic within organisations when encouraging diversity, collaboration, and innovation.
The work of Harvard Professor Dr Robert Kegan demonstrates that the critical work of transcending the egoic and habitualised mind is not an easy undertaking.
When creating the ‘Immunity to Change’ framework, Dr Kegan discovered through his research that despite the best of intentions to positively change there are often opposing forces / polarities at play – unconscious competing commitments that attempt to actively resist change and maintain the status quo or homeostasis of our system and our comfort zone – the known or familiar identity.
Kegan’s research highlighted that some people would sooner die than change – and many individuals and organisations do. In my work I too have often seen organisational leaders who have struggled to evolve beyond their egocentric mindset. Because of this many individual and organisations never reach their full potential – or worse still become irrelevant. Victims of their own former success and attachment to the familiar – their comfort zones.
Unfortunately, there is little growth or learning in the familiar. Transformational insight and learning lie outside our comfort zone.
Evolutionary leaders recognise this – effectively managing growth or disruption in teams, organisations, and others is almost impossible if we have not yet learned to ride the destabilising waves of disruption that significant change brings to ourselves.
In our specialist consultancy, deeper levels of conscious awareness, integration, and adaptive capability are rapidly developed in relational engagements such as executive coaching, bespoke leadership development programs, and offsite leadership retreats that target vertical learning and the critical area of Evolutionary Leadership.
To begin the journey of ego transcendence, tools such as daily reflective journaling and meditation can also help evolve consciousness, accelerating the development of the mind’s reflective capacity (meta-cognition) and transcendence of ego states by engaging the brain’s pre-frontal cortex to pattern-interrupt habitualised ways of being.
Where to now?
”The best way to predict the future … is to create it” – Peter Drucker
Evolutionary leaders recognise that the destiny and potential of themselves, others, organisations, and society is in their collective hands. Firstly, however, they must intentionally evolve their own level of consciousness, adapt, and work through their limitations and habitualised ways of ‘being and doing’.
By embarking on their own transformational journey leaders can become highly integrated role models and conscious leaders of their own minds and lives, skilfully managing and regulating the flow of information and energy in themselves and by extension others.
Only then are they able to authentically articulate the evolutionary vision and deeper purpose of teams, communities, and organisations. Their role becomes enabler of the vision through creating an inclusive space of shared leadership, trust, and safety. A coherent and agile ecosystem where purposeful dialogue, system design (structure), and the flow of information optimally supports purposeful activity (flow of energy) that aligns, engages, and sustainably guides the system towards the fulfilment of its evolutionary purpose.
Often we want things to change… for the better. Paradoxically we often resist and do not want things to change beyond our control (for better or worse) and we may need to manage our relationship to change in a more effective way.
Creating change or adapting to change can often mean challenging limited ways of being and perceiving both professionally and personally as often the impulse is to maintain the status quo or homeostasis of ourselves or a system so that we feel more comfortable and in control. This reasoning presupposes why humans are predominantly creatures of habit who generally seek out the structure of the familiar. Fortunately or unfortunately change is an ongoing and inevitable part of all aspects of life. Despite all of our best attempts to control ourselves, others, or the environment, things inevitably change. How many people actually hang onto their youth, avoid death or accidents, stop progress, keep our children young, or avoid evolution and change in business for example? When things change and become unfamiliar often we and / or others around us can resist or struggle to adapt as confidence suffers, and we can become tentative or fearful of the unknown and unfamiliar.
All of us can be limited by our histories and experience. This can be both conscious and unconscious, being burned into our psyche as beliefs about who we are, what we are, what we are (or not) capable of, and how we are in relation to others and our world around us. This could also be a good description for our ego, and everyone’s ego can limit or serve them. The associated hard wiring of the brain could be described as the “structure of the brain” and it is this hard wiring that gives us a fixed sense of self and and how we perceive ourselves and the world.
Change (internal or external) requires us by necessity to develop new neural pathways as we learn to adapt and meet the challenges of change. When these new neural pathways are established over time by engaging with the process of change we develop a sense of having mastered the change and integrating its effect. At this point it begins to no longer feel like change, as change itself begins to seem familiar. Through the resultant positive “rewiring” of the brain we are introduced to embodied feelings of achievement, confidence, expansion, and greater capacity, and when these feelings are integrated with cognitive insights and awareness we have moved beyond the limitations of the once familiar… we have expanded and grown!
We could also apply the neuroscientific metaphor of rewiring the brain to business when we talk of introducing change in business and organisations. The associated “rewiring” and adaptations that may need to occur in leadership / management, operational systems, structures, and culture for example along with their interdependent nature and the impact of all these aspects on commercial effectiveness and profitability are not dissimilar to the systemic internal neuroscientific “re-organisation” challenges that individuals may encounter with change.
Managing change is often not as simple as it appears, remembering much of the impact of change can be unconscious or unknown. Many wishing to implement or manage the impact of change often engage a professionally qualified Coach to help expand and develop their ability to consciously embrace change and more effectively manage its effect. The success of the coaching partnership can very much depend on the knowledge and skill of the coach and the willingness of the client to engage in the supportive coaching process and be open to new possibilities, even if this can initially feel unfamiliar, challenging, or uncomfortable at times.
The ability of the coachee to self-reflect on their attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and behaviour is also a crucial part of raising awareness… the precursor to any sustainable change and the doorway to the cultivation of greater self efficacy, flexibility, choice and responsiveness, not just compulsive or habitual ways of being.
This process of reflection and engaged, honest and open dialogue in the coaching space moves a coachee from a subjective to a more objective position allowing insightful realisations to occur. This can begin to dissolve attachment to a fixed sense of self and the insistence on the world and others around us having to be a particular way in order for us to perform well or be happy.
When these insights are integrated and actioned, improved more empowered capacity and positive experience can occur. With support and commitment this new found flexibility and potential for beneficial thought, action, and experience (and the resultant restructuring of the brain known as “neuroplasticity”) can lead to greatly improved levels of leadership, performance, flow, confidence, fulfilment, and wisdom in the coachee’s professional and personal life.
This provides the opportunity to attempt experiences and goals that may have previously seemed beyond the coachee’s abilities or usual comfort zone (i.e. familiar) as they begin to develop new capacities and attributes that may have been once perceived as “just not me” or “I can’t”.
If you would like to more effectively manage change and benefit from the powerful insights and experience of a coaching engagement, contact Michael Ryder from InsideOut Coaching and Consulting on (02) 49712285 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s all happening… and fast… globalisation, technology, climate change, environmental and sustainability issues, business ethics, legislation, market volatility, and their impact on how we do business are just some of the many rapid changes and expectations forced upon all of us. Whether a large corporation or small to medium business, very few have been insulated from the changes that have accompanied the post-technological age in business. Even organisations and countries previously considered superpowers have buckled under the rapidly changing business landscape and consequences, such as the global financial crisis created through the unwise decision making and motivations of some of the world’s leading economic and organisational power-brokers. These factors have altered how many do business at the most basic level, now and into the future.
According to a report in the Harvard Management Update analysts say traditional management approaches can’t cope with today’s faster-paced business processes. Today’s executives have to deal with greater workplace diversity which require a more complex skill set than simply managing up and down.
Jessica Jarvis, an advisor with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, suggests that fever-pitched global competition is driving radical organisational restructuring that calls for highly specialised staff support. Self-interest and political strategising are no longer the only way for enlightened modern leaders as more collaborative, entrepreneurial, and innovative hierarchical structures begin to emerge for leading and transforming organisations and harnessing the creativity, potential, and competitiveness within them. Authentic relationship, interpersonal skills, and esoteric capacities such as emotional intelligence, self awareness, creativity, and vision are valued and needed by leaders today in managing change and maintaining sustainable, competitive, resilient, ethical, and successful organisations.
To meet these new challenges leaders and executives of many successful organisations have identified the inherent value of creating learning and development cultures that reward and recognise professional growth, contribution, personal development, creativity, and innovation as internal resources to be nurtured, developed, and utilised in supporting and improving organisational outcomes and profitability whilst simultaneously enhancing the performance and fulfilment of those within the organisation. This can be seen as a deliberate attempt to realise the potential of the organisation in the form of improved outcomes and commercially rewarding results by fully realising and maximising the potential and capacities of the people within the organisation including the leaders themselves.
For most this begins and is role-modelled at senior levels, with executive and leadership development a high priority in supporting and retaining key individuals, and developing the potential and broad professional and personal skill levels of high achievers in an ever-changing, dynamic business environment. Although, just as a seed may possess all the elements for becoming a great tree inside it, whether the seed fulfils that potential is dependent on the right causes and conditions. The appropriate causes and conditions for many individuals and organisations has become the creation of the collaborative learning and development culture that actively encourages individuals and teams to grow and flourish.
A comprehensive study of 1,000 local and international executives conducted by the American Management Association (AMA) into current and future coaching trends discovered that business coaching for the development of leaders, high potentials, executives, and expatriates was found to have significant correlations with improved performance through successful coaching. It also found that coaching programs involving expatriates were significantly correlated with improved market performance.
The method of establishing a learning and development culture at this level begins with the engagement of an external, qualified business coach who works with the client in areas they wish to focus on such as leadership and executive development, performance, behaviour, and strategy in order to expand their overall capacity to realise more of their own innate potential as influential leaders and role models of organisationally valued attributes, ability, and inspiration; “coaching tends to have the biggest positive impact on micro- level outcomes such as developing future leaders and improving leadership behaviours and individual employees’ performance” ( McDermott et al., 2007).
Other major findings of the AMA study indicated that coaching was used for the following purposes and benefit in the respondents’ organisations:
- 79% – To improve individual performance/productivity
- 63% – To address leadership development/succession planning
- 60% – To increase individual worker skill levels
- 56% – To improve organisational performance
- 44% – To address specific workplace problems
- 41% – To boost employee engagement
- 38% – To improve retention rates
- 26% – To improve performance of employees whose supervisor is being coached
- 24% – To improve recruitment outcomes
Percent using coaching frequently or a great deal for this purpose.
Some experts believe that coaching is the most convenient and flexible way for leaders to come up the learning curve quickly enough to handle the competition and speed of business cycles and change as executive’s time demands have rendered other training models obsolete (Keller Johnson, 2007).
Coaching will continue to grow and expand as an important leadership development practise and as a catalyst for the creation of learning and development cultures. It is already becoming one of the major keys to developing and retaining scarce talent in the future, and companies who learn to leverage it well will have a significant competitive advantage in the global market place.
(This article has been written by Michael Ryder who is the managing director and a senior coach with InsideOut Consulting, a business, personal coaching and consultancy organisation based in Sydney, Australia. He can be contacted directly on 0412 130 768 or at InsideOutConsulting.com.au)
American Management Association (2008) Coaching: A global study of successful practises 2008-2018
Jarvis, J. (2005). The rise and rise of coaching. Coaching at Work, Special Launch Issue, 18-23.
Keller Johnson, L. (2007, January). Getting more from executive coaching. Harvard Management Update, 1-4.
McDermott, M., Levenson, A., & Newton, S. (2007). What coaching can and cannot do for your organization. Human Resource Planning, 30(2), 30-37.